Summary: Jamila wants to spend the summer playing basketball, but her mother plans to sign her up for science camp. A chance encounter with a slightly odd girl named Shirley at a yard sale changes the course of her vacation. Shirley and her mother come to visit the next day, and the moms agree to let them spend their days together on the basketball court. Shirley seems to spend her days reading, but she gradually reveals her amazing powers of observation to Jamila. One day an 8-year-old boy named Oliver comes to the court to ask Shirley for help. It turns out she has a reputation as the neighborhood detective, and his gecko has been stolen from the local pool. Shirley gets to work, with Jamila tagging along. Solving the case almost ends their budding friendship, but in the end, each one sees how she needs the other. Shirley pulls a grand reveal to all involved in the case, as she unmasks the culprit, but also manages to plant seeds of friendships with the kids involved in the case. 224 pages; grades 3-7.
Pros: A clever graphic mystery with a bit of a nod to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle: Shirley has Sherlock’s astute powers of observation and lack of social skills, while Jamila serves as a Watson-like narrator and assistant. The characters are well-developed, and most readers will have to wait for Shirley’s grand reveal to figure out who stole the gecko. I also liked that both characters have just turned 10, as most middle grade novels seem to feature slightly older characters. This seems like a perfect series opener, so we can keep our fingers crossed there will be more mysterious fun to come.
Cons: I was hoping all the kids would become friends at the end, but Jamila and Shirley seemed like they were moving on.
Summary: Gabby and her family have always spent their summer vacation at the family’s lakeside cabin. But this year is different. At the beginning of the week, her father announces that he’s being transferred, but doesn’t know where yet. And there’s a new family staying next door with two obnoxious kids the same age as Gabby and her younger brother. The parents insist that the kids hang out together, and they find themselves breaking into a mysterious mansion that’s been abandoned for years. The house fires up Gabby’s imagination, and she begins writing a mystery about it. When new girl Paige finds out, they start collaborating, using clues they’ve found in the house. Things get a little too real as they begin to find evidence of foul play, possibly involving their kind old neighbor. By the time the week ends, bookworm Gabby has realized that there’s plenty of adventure to be found in real life, and when the family finds out where they’re moving, she’s ready for a new chapter to unfold. 256 pages; grades 3-7.
Pros: Scholastic Graphix hasn’t disappointed me yet, and this fun summer graphic novel is sure to find many, many fans among the Telgemeier-Holm-Jamieson crowd. The mystery is fun, and family and friendship issues feel real, yet wrap up reassuringly.
Cons: I’d love to see another story about Gabby and/or Paige, but as near as I can tell there are no plans for a series.
Published by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Thanks to Little, Brown for providing me with a free digital copy of this book.
Summary: 16-year-old Goldie Vance divides her time between the Crossed Palms Resort Hotel with her father, and the Mermaid Club with her mother. Her official job is parking cars, but she aspires to be the assistant to the house detective. When the hotel and the club become the location of a new Hollywood blockbuster, Goldie’s there to make sure everything runs smoothly. The glamorous movie star takes a liking to her, and when a diamond-studded swimming cap disappears, Goldie winds up in the middle of the case, gathering clues and interviewing witnesses. Her own mother is a prime suspect, and it’s up to Goldie to prove her innocence and uncover the identity of the real culprit. Reviews I’ve read mention two eight-page color comic inserts, but the Kindle version I got from Net Galley didn’t have these. 264 pages; grades 4-7.
Pros: Based on the comic created by Hope Larson and Brittney Williams, Goldie Vance is like a queer Nancy Drew in a 1950’s Art Deco Florida setting. With lots of colorful characters, a unique setting, and plenty of sleuthing action, this is sure to be a popular choice for late elementary and middle school readers.
Cons: The crime didn’t occur until halfway through the book; I was getting impatient to find out what mystery Goldie was going to be solving.
Summary: Keenan’s recovering at his dad’s house on Centerlight Island after contracting TB while living with his mom and stepfather in Shanghai. There are some pretty unique features to Centerlight: the U.S.-Canadian border that runs through the middle of it; the crumbling lighthouse; the gangsters who are rumored to have hidden treasure there; and Zarabeth, a.k.a. ZeeBee, the neighbor girl who befriends Keenan. As the only Canadian girl her age on the island, ZeeBee doesn’t have any friends, but she does have a wild imagination. She’s sure Tommy-Gun Ferguson, the gangster who once lived in her house, buried gold somewhere on the island and she’s equally sure that her beloved dog, Barney, was murdered. As Keenan learns more about his new home, he discovers that almost every resident had reason to want ferocious, destructive Barney dead. After a rocky start to their friendship, Keenan and ZeeBee agree to join forces and end up discovering more about Centerlight than they originally bargained for. 320 pages; grades 3-7.
Pros: It would hardly be a new year without a new offering from perennial favorite Gordon Korman. Told in his trademark alternate points of view–mostly Keenan and ZeeBee, with a few other Centerlight residents occasionally chiming in–there’s enough humor, friendship, and mystery to keep Korman’s many fans happy for another year. Whoops, make that six months–there’s another Gordon Korman book due out in July.
Cons: It was a bit difficult to fathom ZeeBee’s love for and her family’s patience with Barney.
Published by Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers
Summary: The CIA is desperately seeking Pandora, an equation created by Einstein that has the potential to solve all the world’s energy problems–or to take out large portions of Earth’s population. A terrorist group may be closing in on figuring out Einstein’s super-secret location, so the CIA has decided to recruit Charlotte “Charlie” Thorne, a 12-year-old girl with the world’s highest IQ. She also happens to be the half sister of Dante, the agent assigned to the case. In a series of nail-biting escapades, Charlie and her colleagues race against the clock to try to beat the terrorists as well as a rogue agent in solving the clues to reveal the location of Pandora. Filled with non-stop action and narrow escapes, the story ends ambiguously for Charlie, leaving the door open for a sequel. 400 pages; grades 5-8.
Pros: Stuart Gibbs fans will not be disappointed with his newest series starter. Charlie occasionally presents as a bratty know-it-all, but then again, she does pretty much know it all, due to her astronomical IQ; she also has a fun disrespect for authority that tweens are sure to appreciate. The pace never slows down, and readers will be propelled through the pages as fast as Charlie travels down her favorite ski slope.
Cons: Although Stuart Gibbs’ other series are popular with my fourth and fifth graders, I’m a little hesitant to recommend this for readers younger than fifth grade. The terrorist leader spews a lot of racist hatred, and there’s a somewhat disturbing scene where a man is burned alive.
Summary: Cordelia’s not happy with her family’s move from sunny California to cold and snowy New Hampshire. Her new middle school, Shadow School, is unusually elegant but seems to have a few dark secrets dating back to the time of its founder, Elijah Z. Shadow. When Cordelia realizes that she is seeing ghosts that others can’t see, she is pretty freaked out. New friends Agnes and Benji (the only other kid in the school who can see ghosts) soon come to her aid, and as the year goes on, Cordelia slowly begins to feel more comfortable at her new school. The three kids work to understand the ghosts and unlock some of the more dangerous mysteries hidden within their school. They manage to dispense with the main ones, but the ending and the fact that this is book 1 make a sequel seem inevitable. 304 pages; grades 4-7.
Pros: A fun blend of spooky ghost story, mystery, and friendship story that will appeal to a wide variety of readers.
Cons: Although there was plenty of mystery and suspense, this wasn’t as scary as some kids might wish it were.
Summary: Chess, Emma, and Finn Greystone, ages 12, 10, and 8, live with their mom in Ohio. One day they hear on the news that three kids in Arizona have been kidnapped. As the story unfolds, they learn that these three children have exactly the same names as them. And exactly the same birthdays. Their mom seems especially disturbed by this bizarre coincidence, and the next day she abruptly announces that she is going on a business trip and isn’t sure when she’ll return. She arranges them to stay with a woman named Mrs. Morales and her daughter, Natalie, people who are pretty much strangers to the three children. When the kids discover their mom left her computer and phone at home, and that the phone has been programmed to send texts to Mrs. Morales about the trip, they begin to suspect that their mother has disappeared and may never return. As they delve further into the mystery, they discover some horrifying secrets about their family that could put all of them–as well as Natalie and her mom–in serious danger. A cliffhanger ending paves the way for book #2. 405 pages; grades 5-8.
Pros: Like the best books by Margaret Peterson Haddix, this one is a total page-turner, keeping the reader guessing as one bizarre clue after another is revealed. Kids not quite ready for The Hunger Games may enjoy the glimpses of a dystopian world toward the end of the book.
Cons: Developing realistic characters doesn’t seem to be Haddix’s greatest strength. I found preciously cute Finn especially annoying.
Summary: Mr. Penguin has invested his life savings into a new business: becoming a Professional Adventurer. He’s just beginning to feel nervous about his quiet office when the phone rings. It’s Miss Bones, owner of the Museum of Extraordinary Objects, and she’s on a quest to save her falling-down building. She and her brother have learned there may be treasure buried on the grounds, so Mr. Penguin and his trusty (spider) sidekick Colin go off on their first adventure. They find plenty of it at the museum: an underground jungle, an alligator, and jewel thieves. After more than one narrow escape, Mr. Penguin and Colin manage to solve the mystery, recover the treasure, and get the thieves behind bars. A ringing phone on the final page indicates this won’t be Mr. Penguin’s last adventure! 203 pages; grades 2-4.
Pros: Fans of Dog Man and Inspector Flytrap will enjoy this longer, but just as zany, illustrated chapter book. Filled with plot twists, narrow escapes, as well as a protagonist who’s likely to be a step or two behind the reader, this is a promising start to a new series.
Cons: I wasn’t a huge fan of the illustrations or the black and orange color scheme.
Published by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Summary: Jada is moving back to New York City after several years spent in France. She’s dealing with the recent death of her mom in a plane crash, but she can’t accept that her mother is gone. In fact, she’s sure she has seen her on more than one occasion, although her father assures her that’s just part of her reaction to grief. New York seems full of strange characters, though, and Jada enlists the help of four new friends to try to figure out who they are and what is going on. By the end of the story, they’ve revealed everyone’s true identities and learned the truth about Jada’s mother. The epilogue sets up the next book in the series. 272 pages; grades 3-5.
Pros: Illustrated with Sherri Winston’s artwork, this story has plenty of plot twists and nefarious characters to keep kids turning the pages. Jada and her friends are a bit smarter and more worldly than the average fifth grader, but that’s all part of the fun, as they go undercover and discover truths that elude the adults around them.
Cons: Jada’s father’s new relationship with his assistant Cécile seems a bit odd when we learn (spoiler alert) that her mother is actually still alive.
Summary: Neither Sarah nor Janie is happy when Janie’s mom leaves her with Sarah’s family while Mom goes off to do a Hollywood screen test. Janie thinks she’s stuck with a bunch of hicks in Warrenville, Georgia, while Sarah doesn’t appreciate Janie’s condescending attitude. In a desperate attempt to keep her cousin entertained, Sarah takes her to the old Creek Church, a town landmark with a troubled history of racial violence. Rumors of “haints” prove to be true when the girls are confronted by a mysterious young boy. With the help of Sarah’s brother Ellis and his friend Jasper, the kids have to figure out who the boy is and try to save him from the evil ghostly forces that are threatening to engulf him. It turns out that it’s not just the church that’s haunted, and as the four uncover family and town secrets, they learn that the past must be confronted to move ahead into the future. 320 pages; grades 4-7.
Pros: An engaging family and friendship story with a touch of historical fiction and a good ghostly mystery. The historical part could spark some interesting discussions.
Cons: This book didn’t strike me as nearly as scary as I was led to believe from the reviews. I was hoping to shelve it in the “Scary” section of the library, but I think “Mystery” may be more appropriate.